Friday, 29 January 2016

Perplexing Playdate Planning

I've been trying to expand Nathan's circle of playdates, so that he has more than one or two friends he can call on.

Things are going relatively smoothly, but we've run into a challenge with a few of the families.  In retrospect, I should have predicted it: life keeps happening and plans get rescheduled.  

Now I don't have a problem with rescheduling on it's own.  Kids get sick, parents realize that there's a conflicting event, schedules have to be juggled.  But it's really hard on Nathan.

As he gets older, he's having more trouble when things aren't going the way he planned.  He was terrified and inconsolable when the car broke down.  He kept saying that we'd have to sleep in the car and we were going to freeze to death.  Now, I don't think that was actually what he was worried about.  I think his anxiety spiked at the change of plans and then he seized on an explanation for it.  (People with high levels of anxiety do this more often than you'd think, which is why trying to explain away the cause of the anxiety does nothing.)

Nathan gets quite upset when I have to tell him that a playdate he's been planning on (and they usually go onto the schedule a week in advance) is suddenly moved or cancelled.  He does adjust, but it leaves him more fragile for the day and less able to cope with any other unexpected challenges (and there are always some).

I'm not sure how to explain this to other parents.  They've got legitimate reasons for needing to reschedule and I don't want them to feel bad, or worse, decide to withdraw having their kids come over because they don't want to risk upsetting Nathan.

Nathan needs a predictable structure to his day and week.  I don't think it's at an unreasonable level (though we are working on resiliency and flexibility in the face of change, because life is change).  I don't want him to give up on having friends because the challenge of dealing with other people's schedules is too frustrating.

I'm tiptoeing through, trying to find the right balance of security and growth.  I guess all parents do that, but I certainly feel as if I'm teetering on an edge and Nathan is the one who will fall off if I get it wrong.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Let's Talk Day

Today is Bell's Let's Talk Day, which is aimed at getting rid of the stigma about mental health issues.

So let's talk.  Or at least type.  In Girl, Interrupted, Susannah Kaysen describes mental illness as "you or me, exaggerated" and I think this is one of the biggest challenges to empathizing with people who are suffering from mental illness or disorders.

It's difficult to explain how devastating depression when the words used to describe it: sad, lack of energy, hopelessness, are all feelings that everyone has.  Everyone feels down sometimes, but not everyone gets hit by depression.  So, if someone says "I'm feeling sad and not going to work", that's hard for people to grasp because they go to work when they feel sad.

Ditto for autism.  I've had people tell me they understand what I'm going through because their kids are shy or picky eaters.  I've had my kids accused of being brats and monsters.  I've lost count of the "bad parent" glares I get on a daily basis.  The thing is, my kids don't do anything radically different and there isn't an obvious visual clue to their disabilities.  They are just like other kids, except that their brains work on a different level and their reactions are not always predictable based on the expectations of neurotypical people.

Maybe we need new words to explain the effect of mental disorders.  Maybe we can educate people so that they understand there's a spectrum of experience beyond their personal feelings and moods.  Maybe then, we can be more understanding and start making sure that everyone has the support and help they need.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Life Happens

Sometimes, despite the best of intentions, things do not go as planned.

Lately, I've been getting a lot of character-building reminders that I shouldn't get too attached to my plans.  That I should make sure I have room to be flexible.

There have been the usual scheduling challenges, with too much work to fit into too few hours.  There have been the usual weather challenges (I do not cope well with being cold).  Parenting challenges, home repair challenges (new territory for me, as a former military brat, we usually moved before needing to do any real maintenance), and the challenges of too little sleep.  Those are all challenges I'm used to dealing with.

Around the holidays, the universe has upped the ante by throwing some health challenges into the mix.  Nothing serious, just inconvenient.  Before Christmas, I discovered I had a fibroid.  Uncomfortable, but not threatening.  Most women get them at one point or another.  After Christmas, I found out the ache in my jaw is a cracked tooth which will definitely need a crown and possibly a root canal.  Because of the root complications, we have to wait before fixing it.  Again, unpleasant but could be worse.

Last night, after driving to pick up Nathan at Cubs, my car refused to start.  I had to call Dave to come get us, which meant getting Alex out of bed.  Nathan was very upset, crying because he thought we would have to sleep in the car and would freeze to death.  No matter how I explained that Daddy would be here soon and then we'd just go home, he refused to believe me.

We had to leave the car at Cubs.  Today we'll go and see if we can get it to start or if it needs to be towed.  Either way, it'll be on it's way to the mechanic.  Which means we'll be short a car for this week and depending on how long it takes, I may not be able to work this morning.  Not awesome.

The side effect of all these unexpected hits is that our vacation fund has been drained.  We had hoped to go to the Maritimes for a week this summer.  Now that's no longer an option, at least not for this year.  I'm disappointed about that but I keep reminding myself it could be worse.

Mostly, I'm just hoping the universe is done playing with us for a little while so that I can get my feet back under me.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Recognizing When "Can't" Really Is "Can't"

Every parent knows that children are apparently incapable of a wide variety of acts: from eating the chicken that they ate happily a week ago to tidying up their rooms to going to bed without 20 lights on; a wide number of parental demands are met with "I can't!"

For the most part, when a child says "I can't" what they mean is "I don't want to" and thus most parents can proceed accordingly.  (Yes, you have to eat supper.  No, Lego Mini-Figures are not an acceptable carpeting substitute.  Night is supposed to be dark, etc.)

Sometimes, "can't" really means "can't".  Lately Nathan has been stretching his screentime in the morning to right before it's time to go to school.  (He gets a half hour and he's been delaying starting until 35 minutes before departure.)  This has resulted in a large number of tantrums.  We've tried giving transition warnings.  We've tried talking with him about taking deep breaths and taking a moment before he speaks.  We've tried punishments.  

No matter how much he promises or what his intentions are, Nathan can't control the upset feeling he gets when it's time to turn off screens.  Pair that upset with any kind of demand, and it's a recipe for disaster.  Hopefully he'll be able to control this better as he gets older but for now, we have to accept that this is something he can't do and react accordingly.

Today he was told that screentime will be finished 15 minutes before it's time to leave, regardless of when it began.  If that means he only gets 5 or 10 minutes, then so be it.  (He can still get the half-hour, he just has to finish his morning chores on time rather than taking time to play with his Lego or chase the cat.)  I'm hoping the additional buffer will give him an opportunity to calm down before we have to start telling him to get ready.

He has pleaded and promised and begged to be allowed to continue playing until it's time for school.  I can tell he's sincere.  He's not trying to say what I want to hear in order to get his privileges.  But, in this case, it is like a heroin addict promising not to do any more drugs.  It's a promise which the user may desperately want to keep, but is beyond their power of control.  Instead, the environment must be set up to maximize the possibility of success and wherever possible, deny the possibility of failure.  (Someone pointed out that I use a lot of drug metaphors in raising my children ... there's probably a psychologist somewhere who could make a really interesting paper out of that.)

Hopefully this will make mornings a little quieter and more manageable.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Joys of Single Parenting

I haven't been posting lately because I usually do my posts in the morning and Dave has been called into the office early a lot this week.

Part-time single parenting is a lot of work.  My hat's off to those who manage it full time.

One would think that it wouldn't make that big a difference.  After all, Dave is still preparing the boys' lunches, which is his main contribution in the morning.  But having only a single pair of hands and eyes means everything takes a little longer and the time rapidly vanishes.

The change has also left the boys stressed out and more inclined to snap at each other.  So we've had more tantrums and fights than usual and those take time to resolve and get back to the rest of the work which needs to be done.

Hopefully this doesn't continue into next week. 

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Downside of Success

Alex has been doing really well with his toileting lately.  We're starting to have some hope that maybe by this time next year, we might be done with diapers and extra laundry.  (We'll see, I don't want to jinx it.)

There is a downside to his success, though.  Nathan is having his schedule disrupted on a regular basis to give Alex his rewards.  If Alex does a BM in the toilet, he earns ice cream and usually wants to go right away.  So Nathan comes along with us.  I usually give him an ice cream as well, but it's not the same motivator.

Yesterday, Nathan was quite upset.  He'd had a hard day at school and wanted some downtime with the XBox to unwind.  I knew he wasn't going to be able to tolerate sitting at the McDonald's (Alex's preferred way of getting ice cream) so I did a compromise: we got the ice cream but we went through the drive-thru so that we could get back home quickly.  Not quite as big a reward for Alex but not quite as big a penalty for Nathan.

Balancing out what the two of them need is a real challenge.  It's not fair to ask Nathan to constantly put himself second just because Alex is having success.  On the other hand, we really need to build on Alex's successes right now if we're to have a shot at getting him properly toilet trained.  

There's no easy answer.  I try to be sensitive to Nathan's feelings and recognize that his resentment and frustration is both real and appropriate to the situation.  (I don't want him to feel that he can't come to me with his feelings or that his feelings aren't as important as Alex's.)  I try to make sure that Nathan has special things to work toward and downtime and that he knows how important he is to us and how proud we are of him for all the hard work he does.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Trying Something New

Once a month on a Sunday, my writers' group has an informal get together we call the Author's Lounge.  I've missed the last three meetings due to various complications.  This time, it looked as if I was going to have to miss it again since I didn't have anyone to take care of Alex while Dave and Nathan were out.  The woman hosting the Lounge offered to let Alex come and play with her two children (4 and 7).

I decided to give it a try.  Alex's behaviour has been much improved lately, so I could be reasonably sure we wouldn't have a complete meltdown.  Or at least, not one I couldn't anticipate and leave before.  I brought his iPad and a snack and we gave it a solid try.

I was only able to stay an hour out of the 3 before Alex decided he was bored and wanted to go home.  I decided not to push it.  But while we were there, he did very well.  He played with his iPad and some Lego and beads that the family had brought out.  He wasn't disruptive or trying too hard to get into different areas.

Not a total success but not a disaster.  I don't think I'd try to do it again if I have the option, but it's good to know that it's not entirely off the table.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Refresh Restart is open for 2016

Quickstart's Refresh Restart is taking applications for their 2016 draws for local hotel stays.  This is a program which offers free one and two night stays in local hotels for parents of children with autism.  The stays are just for the parents, to give them a break, so the families need to be able to arrange childcare.

There are several draws throughout the year, but you only have to apply once.  If you have more than one child with autism, you can put in an application in each of their names.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Alexander and His Wonderful, Awesome, Very Good Day

It was a first for us.  Alex earned enough rewards that he had to pick and choose among them.

He earned sufficient bus tokens for a bus ride.  (He earns tokens by having a dry bed and by cooperating with brushing his hair.)

He also earned an ice-cream and Xbox time. (By having a BM in the toilet.)

I gave him the choice of which reward would take priority.  We can't both ride the bus and play on the Xbox, so he could choose to have the Xbox and do the bus ride later or he could choose to do the bus ride today. (I considered offering him the option of Xbox the following morning but decided against it since we usually have a bit of a behaviour burst after a success.)

Alex's decision was to have the bus ride, then the ice cream, and then, if there was time, some Xbox.  It turned out that we got home from the bus close to 7, which meant he had to further choose.  He could get the ice cream through the drivethru and still have time for Xbox or he could eat the ice cream at McDonald's.  He usually prefers to eat at McDonald's, so I wasn't surprised when that was what he picked.

I was pleased by how he took time to think about what he wanted before making a choice, rather than just blurting something out.  I think he's starting to understand that he does have control over some aspects of his life.  

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

More Morning Tantrums

Some days it just hits you out of nowhere.  Nathan woke up on the wrong side of the bed, grumpy and irritable from the moment his feet hit the floor.  He complained about everything.

As we were getting ready for school, I realized he hadn't fed the cat (one of his usual morning chores).  I decided not to push it and got the cat food without asking him.  This prompted a fifteen minute throwing-things and hitting-things tantrum because he wasn't going to get his chore star.  We ended up being late to school which deeply upset Nathan even further.

Playing it back in my head, I don't think I could do anything differently.  Once he started throwing stuff around (he tossed his allowance in the garbage, threw his glasses across the room, hurled the cat food into the bathroom and that was just the first few minutes), the option of letting him calm down on his own went out the window.  I needed to regain control, which meant confronting him and preventing him from further acting out (this is where the Nathan hitting me came in), even though it meant escalating the tantrum.

With the morning crashing and burning, I decided he would not be going to Cubs that night.  The regular meeting ends up pushing bedtime back as much as an hour depending on where the meeting is.

After school, when I told him that he wasn't going to Cubs, he begged and pleaded to be allowed to go.  He was promising that he wouldn't lose his temper again.  I wanted to believe him but experience has taught me that this promise is one he can't keep.  No matter how good his intentions, the tantrum will inevitably fly.

I don't like having to tell Nathan that I can't believe him, that I know he can't do something.  But at the same time, that's part of my job: recognizing his limitations even when he can't.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Nathan Quote

Over the holidays, Nathan and Alex had a sleepover with their grandparents.  The house was more crowded than usual because of other holiday guests but they had a good time.

Yesterday, Nathan was asking me when he could go on another sleepover with Memee and Avi.  I asked him if he'd like to go with Alex the next time Mommy and Daddy went out for the evening.

Nathan thought about it and replied: I'd rather go by myself.  So they won't be distracted.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, along with Nathan (No Spoilers)

Nathan is at the perfect age for Star Wars.  He's 8 years old, which is the age most of the dedicated, die-hard fans were when they first saw the original trilogy.

We'd shown him Episodes 4-6 (A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) and he loved them.  He was Han Solo for Hallowe'en.

His favourite part of Disney was the Star Wars portion.

This was his first experience of a movie as part of the mega-fan crowd.  He got dressed up in costume and applauded along with the rest of the crowd during the opening credits.

Watching him get swept away by The Force Awakens was better than the movie itself.  (And I really liked the movie, so don't think that's dim praise.)  His eyes were wide, he gasped, he laughed.  For over two hours, he wasn't Nathan, he was swept up and became Finn and Rey and Kylo Ren.  

That's a magical experience and one I'll treasure for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

First Round of the Shadow Wars

Last night, I spent a half hour with Nathan showing him how the ambient light from the street was enough for him to make out clear details.  I showed him how a flashlight could be used if something frightened him or he needed to traverse the dark into the bathroom.  We made a deal that during this transition time, I wouldn't keep extra lights on at his bedtime but would turn on the bathroom light before I went to bed.

I talked to him about how we can use our other senses when it's dark, like listening to the wind outside or the noises in the house.  I talked about how our brains need dark to sleep and we need sleep to grow and have fun.

Nathan was relatively enthusiastic but that's not an indicative sign.  He has a bad habit of trying to tell people what they want to hear rather than how he actually feels about something.  (On the one hand, not great to suppress how he feels, on the other hand, some of my lessons about socially appropriate responses must be sticking.)

We'll keep trying.  Or rather, I'll keep trying.  Hopefully we can wean him off nightlights in such a way that he doesn't recognize how dramatic a change it is.  I don't want him sitting alone and afraid in the dark.  I want him to realize that he has the power to change what bothers him and that he's not helpless in the face of his fear.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Maintaining Dignity Under Pressure

Most of the time, I love my job.  I love getting to help parents and it's rewarding when I can hear hope returning in their voices.  One of the reasons why I continue to work with Emerging Minds is because their priority is in helping families, not in profit or business models.  The doctors and staff there genuinely care.

Which is why it gets frustrating when I deal with the tiny minority of people who accuse us of trying to profit off families' misery or other misdeeds.  Yesterday, I dealt with a client who was upset that another government agency had lost paperwork which we had sent to them.  The client was frustrated and upset and claimed we had charged for the paperwork and then not done it, that was the only explanation for why the paperwork hadn't gone through.

I believe I handled it well, promising to look into what happened, but I found it interesting that the default explanation was "conspiracy" rather than "mistake".  Paperwork does get lost or misfiled and we deal with a number of agencies which have huge backlogs for receiving and filing the paperwork we send them.

I found myself wanting to ask the client if this approach was a helpful one.  Did they get results from other groups through accusations?  I've always found I get more assistance by using a "we're all on the same side here" approach.  But lifecoaching is not part of my job description, and so I kept my mouth shut and tried not to take it all personally.

I'm always suspicious when I hear about "heartless" corporations.  I get that bureaucracy is frustrating and some of it (cough, insurance, cough) is designed to minimize payouts.  But most of the time, I don't see deliberate incompetence or fraud.  I see people who make mistakes dealing with a system which also makes mistakes.  We're not all powerful, able to manipulate circumstances to attack those we deem unfit.  We're not infallible, omnipotent beings.

And if we were, we'd have better things to do with our awesome powers than passive-aggressively mess up paperwork.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Are You Afraid Of the Dark?

Welcome to 2016 everyone.

First up on my agenda this year: dealing with Nathan's fear of the dark.  This has been a growing problem for some time.  I've tried to be accepting, giving him nightlights and glow in the dark stars.  After all, most kids (and some adults) are scared of the dark.  I didn't want him to feel that it was a bad thing or that it made him a coward.

But now it's getting out of hand.  He's demanding more and more lights be kept on at night, which is affecting his sleep (and mine).  He's also refusing to get up to go to the washroom if it's too dark.  

With everything else that's been going on in the last year, I've maybe let Nathan's fears ride for too long.  So I think I'm going to have to find a way to help him get over his fears.

My thought is to do some immersion work on it.  Take away the nightlight and the hall lights but have me stay with him so that he doesn't have to be scared.  I can put the nightlight back after I leave.  (I'm refusing to keep the hall lights on all night.)

Hopefully that will help him to see that there's nothing to be scared of in the dark which wasn't there in the light.